Dior and People Tree Reach Settlement After Plagiarism Row

People Tree thanked the social media where the people stood by him and led the campaign.

Updated
Fashion
5 min read
People Tree had accused Dior of blatant plagiarism after Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor was seen wearing a brick-toned dress on the cover of Elle India’s January issue. 
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Almost four months after European luxury goods company Dior was accused of plagiarising a design by 'People Tree', it's co-founder Orijit Sen on Monday, 28 May, said that the two organisations had reached an "amicable settlement out of court".

In a Facebook post, Sen also mentioned that 'People Tree' had signed a "non-disclosure agreement" with Christian Dior, constraining them from revealing further details about the nature of the settlement.

Sen thanked the social media where the people stood by him and led the campaign for 'People Tree'.

"And apart from giving thanks, the other reason I'm putting this news out there is so you all know and can think about what you've achieved through your campaigning," he further wrote.

Here's Sen's Facebook post:

Friends, on behalf of everyone at People Tree, I'm overjoyed to announce that we have been successful in reaching an...

Posted by Orijit Sen on Monday, May 28, 2018

Orijit Sen had accused Dior of plagiarising their design after Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor was seen on the cover of Elle India’s January issue, sporting a vibrant, brick-toned, printed Christian Dior outfit.

Hey mega brand Dior are you really that bereft of ideas that you need to steal print designs from independent designers,...

Posted by Orijit Sen on Monday, January 22, 2018

A visibly irked Sen had lashed out at Dior for "plagiarising the work of small independent creators with impunity” on social media.

Sen had claimed that he had been selling this design, with block-dyed patterns on it, for 20 years now. He claimed that it had all begun in 1990, when Sen co-founded People Tree.

I'd like to set an example here - so these mega brands with mega budgets think twice before plagiarising the work of...

Posted by Orijit Sen on Monday, January 22, 2018

He had even shared the “hand carved wood block of the design”, which he says is copied by Dior, on Facebook, as a testimony to his claims.

Gurpreet Sidhu dug through our old trunks and found my original hand drawn artwork and hand carved wood block of the design that's been plagiarised by Dior!

Posted by Orijit Sen on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Gurpreet Sindhu, associated with People Tree, also shared images of the print – originally created by them – to second Sen’s claims:

Posted by Gurpreet Sidhu on Monday, January 22, 2018

Talking to The Quint, Pakhi Sen – daughter of Orijit Sen and Gurpreet Sindhu – explained the origins of the design:

Made from an artwork, the design in question is around 20 years old. It is hand-carved into a block by woodsmiths in Kaladera and printed by Bindaas Unlimited. So there are many stakeholders who can vouch for this design. 

Sen even shared a picture of his team on his Facebook page as a tribute to the artisans and weavers who work day in and out to create original designs.

We are the people who made the prints that #Dior stole - right here on this beautiful terrace in the beautiful village...

Posted by Orijit Sen on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Solidarity With People Tree

Photographer and artist Dayanita Singh expressed solidarity with People Tree. In one of her Instagram posts, she said it is “shocking that Dior would copy”.

Reactions from the fashion industry, who've been crying hoarse over a trend of plagiarism in the industry for a while, were quick to follow. Ram Mango, with ace designer Sanjay Garg at the helm of affairs, called the incident “unfortunate”. Designer Rimzim Dadu, on the other hand, called it “appalling”.

@diet_prada, which is known to call the bluff of fashion copycats, also put out an Instagram post condemning Dior.

Maria Grazia Chiuri's Resort '18 show for @dior was certainly epic. Not only the location, but the rich blend of materials and inspirations in the clothes themselves. Hidden amongst the cave paintings and Tarot embroideries was a print of yogis and lotuses bearing a striking resemblance to a decades-old wooden block print from People Tree, a fair trade store and collective in India that empowers local designers and handicrafts groups.  Another day, another luxury company bypassing an opportunity to work with the actual artisans who inspired them.  For their signature Yoga print to show up on beloved Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor on the cover of Elle India is just another stab. • #peopletree #ojiritsen #gurpreetsidhu #dior #diorcouture #mariagraziachiuri #mariachiuri #diorsauvage #fairtrade #couture #tarot #georgiaokeefe #lascaux #sonamkapoor #bollywood #actress #elle #ellemagazine #elleindia #yoga #yogi #blockprint #lotus #alexachung #ootd #wiwt #copycat #knockoff #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

We have been garnering a lot of support from Indian designers and people working in fashion. We feel quite empowered and moved that people are with us. It is actually incredible. I don’t think a small business or artist can express their angst without it.
Pakhi Sen

Plagiarism in the Time of Social Media

Social media is both a bane and a boon when it comes to furthering and detecting plagiarism. While designers and creators have the opportunity to share their designs with their audiences almost instantly, it leaves ample room for copycats to latch on to original content. With a few tweaks here and there, cheap replicas of designer wear soon start floating on social media, in clustered bylanes and local markets and even online stores.

At the same time, it is almost impossible for a theft of creativity to go undetected under the strict vigil of social media.

I think social media puts a lot of power in the hands of a weaker person and gives them access to the masses. It has certainly helped our case. 
Pakhi Sen

She’s right. People quickly took to Twitter to express their disappointment with Dior.

But then, can a work of art ever truly be 100% original – free from all influences of work preceding it? Pakhi argues:

As an artist, I have looked at so many classical artists and copied their specific techniques to acquire skills. But I wouldn’t repaint an Amrita Sher-Gil and call it my own. There is a difference. When you are inspired, you respect that person. Stealth is not giving respect.

What Next for People Tree?

Team People Tree, according to Pakhi, “is still consulting people and figuring out the next steps”. She adds:

We are really hoping for a statement from Dior, but it seems rather unlikely that they will issue one. We will decide what to do next in due course.

The big designers have so far maintained an eerie silence over the issue. Asked if such a thing would deter them from taking further action, Pakhi says,

I think when people are sponsored by and work with big companies they are naturally afraid to speak up. It is alright. At the end of the day, it is business and it takes time for people to put such a thing into perspective. But this will certainly not deter us from moving ahead with the next steps.

Where Does It End – or Does It?

With the fashion industry divided on patenting and copyrights, we are still not sure where plagiarism ends. Besides, huge litigation costs, the elaborate procedure and a breed of smart cheaters add to the woes of an already burdened industry.

“When we put out this news, so many artists and designers reached out saying how this has happened to them in the past,” says Pakhi adding:

For such a thing to happen to textiles that are created with artisanal communities and traditional handicrafts which anyway don’t get the exposure they deserve, it is a huge insult. The Indian craft market is struggling to survive. It is the NGOs and small businesses that are trying to keep them afloat. It is sad that something they are a part of is just appropriated without a thought. 

Does she believe the alleged plagiarism is a result of ignorance?

Pakhi agrees, “Maybe Dior didn’t think it was doing great disservice to People Tree but that’s the main problem. You have to do your research and have that work ethic. It is not okay to be ignorant.”

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